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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (12/4/2024)

Updated: Apr 13

(Reviews of Close Your Eyes; Bleeding Love; Drift; Unsinkable; and Atirkül in the Land of Real Men)


CLOSE YOUR EYES.


Spanish director Victor Erice is often dubbed the most feted director with the smallest filmography. While it's true he has only completed three features in 52 years - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), El Sur (1983), and The Quince Tree Sun (1992) - he has also made 14 shorts since 1961, including the anthology contributions of `Segment 3' to Los Desafios (1969), `Lifeline' to Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002), `Ana Three Minutes' to 3.11 Sense of Home, and `Vidros Partidos' to Centro Histórico (both 2012).


Moreover, he has also produced occasional gallery installations and documentaries like the frustratingly elusive Víctor Erice: Abbas Kiarostami. Correspondencias (2007). However, after 31 years, the 82 year-old Erice returned last spring with a fourth feature. Twelve months on, it finally reaches UK cinemas, and it's safe to say that Close Your Eyes has been well worth the wait.


In 1947, a Sephardic Jew named Lévy summons a private detective called Franch to his chateau, Triste le Roy. He is dying and wants the Spanish Civil War exile to travel to Shanghai to find his teenage daughter. As Franch embarks on his mission, the screen freezes and we discover we have been watching a film entitled, The Farewell Gaze, which had been abandoned after the actor playing Franch disappeared and was presumed dead.


He was Julio Arenas (José Coronado) and, in 2012 (two decades after he vanished), director Miguel Garay (Manolo Soro) is invited to participate in a TV programme attempting to solve the mystery. Miguel finds some rehearsal tapes in storage and listens to them before appearing on Unresolved Cases. Interviewer Marta Soriano (Helena Miquel) discovers that he and Julio were navy buddies who had wound up in a Francoist prison together for public order offences before working in films. As Miguel had written the part for his friend, he didn't have the heart to continue the project and became a novelist. But the loss still pains him and he resists prompting to speculate about Julio's fate.


As a favour to Marta, Miguel agrees to contact Julio's daughter, Ana Arenas (Ana Torrent), to see if he can persuade her to appear in the show. First, he calls on his old editor, Max Roca (Mario Pardo), who has two cans of film from the aborted shoot. He despairs about the future of a medium that has abandoned celluloid for pixels and suggests that becoming obsolete was also Julio's problem, as he couldn't cope with getting old and no longer being the heartthrob he had once been.


As Ana works as a tour guide at the Prado, Miguel meets her in the canteen. She gives him a photo of the friends in their 1960s sailor suits and laments that her father never got to meet her son. Whenever she watches his old pictures, she is moved more by his voice than his face, as she spent so much of her childhood talking to him on the phone, while he was away filming. Miguel admits that he agreed to do the programme because translating film books doesn't bring in much money. But he concedes that he enjoys living in a coastal village, where he can fish and tend his small orchard.


A chance find at a secondhand bookshop reminds Miguel about an Argentinian singer named Lola San Román, but the number he has no longer exists. Marta shows him her interview with journalist Tico Mayoral (Antonio Dechent), who believes that Julio was caught in an affair with the wife of an important person who arranged for him to be disappeared.


While visiting Max, Miguel sees a caricature drawn by his cartoonist son, who had been killed in a traffic accident. Max thinks the fragments of The Farewell Gaze should be screened in a cinema, but Miguel is more interested in locating Lola (Soledad Villamil). She happens to be on a visit to her old family home in Segovia and Miguel returns the book he had inscribed for her years before. They had been lovers before Julio had stolen her and she reveals that he had called her a week before his disappearance.


Miguel explains that Julio had been drinking and behaving erratically, which was a sure sign he had fallen in love. A cutaway shows Julio on a clifftop in a downpour, as Miguel posits that he could easily have decided to exit the life that had become too much for him and begin again under a new name. He asks Lola to play a song she had used to sing for him, but the lyrics prove too poignant and she stops.


Having picked up some postcards he had sent to his son, Miguel heads home to Almeria. On the bus, he plays with a flick book of a Lumière train coming into a station. Over a drink, he sings `My Rifle, My Pony and Me' from Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo (1959) with neighbours Patón (Alejandro Caballero Ramis), Toni (Dani Téllez), and his pregnant partner, Teresa (Rocío Molina). Their landlord is keen to move them off the land and they fear they will be forced to go.


Busying himself with fishing and translating a biography of Samuel Goldwyn, Miguel can't bring himself to watch the show. He's surprised when Marta calls with news that a man resembling Julio has been reported in a retirement home run by nuns. Belén Granados (María León) shows him the photo from the film of the missing Chinese daughter and he sees Julio (now nicknamed after Argentinian singer Carlos Gardel) doing odd jobs. Having sat opposite him at lunch and sung an shared song while chatting on a nocturnal bench, Miguel is convinced he has found his friend and calls Ana.


Sister Consuelo (Petra Martínez) allows Miguel to stay and he meets with Dr Benavides (Juan Margallo) to discuss when Julio lost his memory and why. They whitewash a wall together and Miguel shows Julio some of the knots they had learned in the navy. He ties one when Ana comes to sit with him, but he shows no sign of recognition and she is saddened by his suffering and makes plans to leave.


However, Miguel spots a white king in a box of Julio's nicknacks that Sister Consuela had been keeping and he asks Max to bring the film down for a screening in the hope the final scene will jolt Julio's memory. Marta sits with Belén and Sister Consuela with Sister Lucía (Ana María), as Ana joins her father in the darkness of the village cinema that has been re-opened for the night. Max is sceptical, as he believes screen miracles ended with Carl Theodor Dreyer. But the scene showing Lévy being reunited with Qiao Shu (Venecia Franco) brings tears to Gardel's eyes in a series of Falconettiesque close-ups.


Shots of a Janus head statue showing youth and old age from the grounds of Triste le Roy accompany the pre-crawl credits. It's an apt reference, as Janus was the Roman god of time, as well as beginnings, doors, gateways, passages, frames, transitions, duality, and endings. Moreover, the music composed by Federico Jusid seems to start with the same notes as the Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangement of `Picardy' used for the hymn, `Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence'. A coincidence, perhaps, but a rather Dreyerian one.


Deftly switching from the 16mm used for the unfinished 1990 feature and digital imagery for the 2012 segment, Erice foregoes the opulence that has been his trademark. But Valentín Álvarez's imagery is still evocative, as the action moves from an imposing French chateau to a TV station, a coastal haven, a rustic retreat, and a care home. There are also poignant stop-offs at a storage room (whose lightbulb packs in) and an editor's archive, where Erice and co-scenarist Michel Gaztambide reminisce about the glory days of projection and fret about a future in which films will be lost to digital decay and future generations will be denied the pleasure of singing along to Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson.


Erice specks proceedings with such self-reflexive grace notes, but this isn't a forbidding film exclusively for cineastes. It's a very human story, with Miguel being driven by friendship and his own need for either closure or a renewed connection. He's played with the hesitant sadness of someone who dreads making an unwanted discovery by Manolo Soro and his reunion scenes with José Coronado (whose contentedly amnesiafied Gardel is a far cry from the sullenly reticent Franch) are stoically touching.


Reuniting with Erice for another tale (after The Spirit of the Beehive) in which moving images change lives, Ana Torrent has a tougher role, as Ana has to deal with the prospect of meeting a man who has been absent in one way or another for her entire life and who she knows better from his films than from her memories. But she conveys again (as she had done as a child) cinema's power to haunt and transcend, as Erice seeks to reassure us that the lights haven't quite gone out on the Seventh Art just yet.


BLEEDING LOVE.


There aren't many examples of decent films in which famous fathers have acted opposite their daughters. The most garlanded are an Oscar-winning duo that teamed Ryan and Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon (1973) and Henry and Jane Fonda in On Golden Pond (1981). But also worth noting are Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie being paired in Lookin' to Get Out (1982) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Serge casting Charlotte Gainsbourg in Charlotte For Ever (1986), Marcello sharing scenes with Chiara Mastroianni in Three Lives and Only One Death (1996), Nick Nolte being joined by Sophia Lane Nolte in Head Full of Honey (2018), and Sean and Dylan Penn coming together in Flag Day (2021). The latest to join the list are Ewan and Clara McGregor, who hit the road in Emma Westenberg's Bleeding Love.


Dispatched by his ex-wife to collect their 20 year-old daughter after her heart stopped following an overdose, a father (Ewan McGregor) drives from San Diego in his blue pick-up truck. When she asks to stop for a pee, the daughter bolts across the desert, only to let her father catch up because she realises she had nowhere to go. He uses her childhood nickname, `Turbo', and we see occasional flashbacks to when he doted on her (Devyn McDowell) to the point that they were inseparable. However, Dad also had his substance issues and they barely spoke after he left home following the latest in a long line of rows. He has since remarried and has a young son, which nettles Turbo, as he is clean and committed to his new family.


Having stolen a couple of miniatures from the counter at a truck stop, Turbo throws up after scarfing down sweets and Dad tries to show concern that makes her feel uncomfortable. Shortly afterwards, the truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere and they have to call for a tow. Driver Elsie (Kim Zimmer) mistakes them for a couple and tries to guess their ages and star signs. She suggests letting a relative have a look at the engine, as she has to drop off a rifle at her nephew's birthday party.


While Dad shows the truck to Amos (Willard Runsabove), Turbo mingles with the guests and gets hit on by Kip (Jake Weary), who is making balloon animals in a clown outfit. He offers her a beer and tries to make a move after downing a few shots before Dad (who has fixed the truck himself) rescues his daughter and gives her a ticking off when they get back underway with a pumpkin donated by Amos on the backseat.


When they next need a break, Dad suggests dropping in to a small-town addicts meeting. Turbo lingers on the periphery, as he delivers testimony that is intended as an apology for being such a bad father. She's touched, but refuses to let him see her emotions and feels so confused when the stop at a diner that she steals a glass of wine from the next seat at he counter. The waitress demands to see some ID and threatens to tell Dad. But Turbo slips her a bribe and puts on a brave face in the truck. She even joins in when her father starts singing along when Leona Lewis's 2007 tune, `Bleeding Love', comes on the radio.


However, when she feels discomfort after her latest alfresco comfort break, he fears she's been bitten and rushes to the nearest pharmacy. It's closed. But sex worker Tommy (Vera Bulder) offers to take a look and identifies the problem as a spider bite because her father had been a park ranger. She accepts a lift and tells the pair about her plans to write plays on Broadway. When Dad shows her some of Turbo's paintings on his phone, she asks if she can use them as stage backdrops.


Departing with the pumpkin, Tommy performs a glittery dance routine in the headlights that elicits bemused smiles. Father and daughter are still in good spirits when they break their 14-hour drive at a motel. They are admonished for using the pool without permission and Turbo is enjoying reliving her childhood mischief with her parent when his phone rings. As Dad has gone for ice and, seeing the name of his new wife flash up, she answers and is dismayed to discover that he is taking her to rehab in Santa Fe.


A huge row follows, in which Turbo accuses Dad of betraying her as a girl and now trying to make amends when they are all but strangers. Running into the night, she approaches Eli (Travis Hammer) at a halt and asks if he knows somewhere she can get high. He takes her home and gets her stoned with plans for a threesome with partner Kentucky (Eve Kozikowski). But Turbo passes out and, following a night of disturbing dreams, wakes to find herself at the side of the road, with Abigail (Kristin K. Berg) standing over her.


She offers a lift in her family's camper van and Turbo calls her father, who has spent the night searching bars and reassuring his wife that she has done nothing wrong in letting the cat out of the bag. Having phoned her mother and been advised to trust Dad, Turbo decides that he is genuinely trying to do the right thing and accepts the keys when he tells her that she is in charge of their final destination. Pulling up outside the clinic, Turbo accepts a hug before going inside. Remembering him dropping her off at school and disappearing the moment she went inside, she rushes to the door and is relieved to see her father is still there with a reassuring smile.


Befittingly for a picture whose original title was I Sing Loud, You Sing Louder, the McGregors croon the 1976 Alessi Brothers hit, `Seabird' over the closing credits. It's a tacky touch to end a project that always feels like a bonding exercise between a daughter and a father who has experienced his own substance issues and who has separated from his child's mother (Eve Mavrakis) in order to start a family with his new partner (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Given that Clara McGregor has shared a co-story credit with Vera Bulder and screenwriter Ruby Caster, it's hard to dismiss speculation that there is an autobiographical thread running through this road movie.


But that doesn't atone for whopping contrivance of the plot premise, the blandness of the dialogue, or the convoluted nature of the incidents that occur en route from California to New Mexico. From the opening headphone thud of Grlwood's `I'm Yer Dad', every second of the action feels infuriatingly hokey, as the commendably committed McGregors play (un)happy families and Emma Westenberg opts out of intervening by plonking Christopher Ripley's camera on the truck bonnet and leaving it to editor Autumn Dea to create some dramatic tension from the arch line readings.


There are sunny flashbacks to daddy larking around in the garden and beaming with pride to fellow spectators when his daughter catches a baseball in a packed stadium. But, for the most part, Westenberg focusses on the faces of her leads, without showing the remotest interest in the passing scenery that could easily have been exploited for symbolic emphasis. Instead, she and Caster revel in the cornball eccentricity of the folks Dad and Turbo encounter on their odyssey. Nearly all provide shoehorned light relief without offering any socio-political significance that might have shed light on the central relationship and the country in which everyone lives.


The McGregors cannily resist easy chemistry, which is as it should be in a case of estrangement. But there are too many moments of self-indulgence for them to emerge from this rickety vanity trip entirely unscathed. They can take consolation, however, in the fact that Kevin and Harley Quinn Smith and Johnny and Lily-Rose Depp remain the worst father/daughter combos in recent times, thanks to the imbecilic comedy horror, Yoga Hosers (2016).


DRIFT.


Since winning the Caméra d'or at Cannes with his debut feature, Ilo Ilo (2013), Singaporean director Anthony Chen has reunited stars Christopher Lee and Yang Shi Bin in Wet Season (2019) and made his Chinese bow with Breaking Ice (2023). Now, the National Film and Television School graduate, has made his first feature in English, Drift, which has been adapted from Alexander Maksik's novel, A Marker to Measure Drift.


Liberian journalist Jacqueline Kamara (Cynthia Erivo) was in a relationship with Londoner Helen (Honor Swinton Byrne) when she made a trip home to see her government minister father, Michael (Vincent Vermignon), her prim mother, Etweda (Zainab Jah), and her pregnant sister, Saifa (Suzy Bemba). However, she now finds herself living rough on a Greek island, where she keeps having to avoid the attentions of souvenir stallholder, Ousmane (Ibrahima Ba).


Sheltering in a cave a bus-ride away from the main tourist area, Jacqueline washes her underwear in the sea and leaves it out to dry while she sleeps. Each morning, she tries to find food left over on outdoor café tables. But she has to make do with a packet of sugar when the owner confronts her and she pretends she is considering booking a table for a dinner party. Having stolen a bottle of oil, she gives foot massages on the beach for a few euros.


Relieved to have escaped from both Ousmane and the police, Jacqueline spends a night reliving moments with Helen and her family. The next day, she makes the acquaintance of Callie (Alia Shawkat), an American tour guide who is showing a party around the Temple of Nemesis. Jacqueline fibs about staying in a villa with her architect husband and rejects an invitation to dinner. However, Callie suspects something is amiss and, she comes to her aid when Jacqueline is caught on the tour coach rifling through bags for sanitary towels.


Afraid of being cornered, Jacqueline asks to be let off the coach taking her back into town. However, she trips and gashes her head on a rock and Callie takes her to the local hospital. Despite having concussion, she slips out of her bed and hides out for the night in an abandoned building, with her mind troubled by recollections of the civil unrest that had spiralled in Liberia during her visit.


Returning to the temple ruins, she apologises to Callie for her erratic behaviour. Panicked by a display of traditional Greek dancing, she flees the site and calls Helen. Her mother answers and reveals that she has gone to New York to study. She asks if Jacqueline is okay, as she saw the awful news on the television. But Jacqueline assures her that she is taking a break and hurriedly hangs up, as she recalls seeing a group of child soldiers break into the family compound after the house had been ransacked.


Having watched Callie swimming in the sea, Jacqueline follows her to her digs and invites her to supper. After a hesitant start, they chat amicably, with Jacqueline admitting that she had lied about a husband and Callie disclosing that her Greek spouse had dumped her after learning she couldn't have kids. Enjoying being in a restaurant she usually scavenges from, Jacqueline joins Callie on a set of swing boats. They are larking around, when Jacqueline suddenly throws up and Callie takes her home to recover.


Asking if she can have a bath, Jacqueline becomes distressed when Callie offers to wash her clothes. Hunched up in the bath, Jacqueline describes watching the interlopers murder her parents and rape her sister before fleeing at the sound of a helicopter overhead. She had snatched up Saida's pants and had kept wearing them in an effort to stay close. Feeling ashamed and afraid, Jacqueline pulls her wet clothing out of the washing machine and runs away.


Laying low in the deserted house, she avoids Callie. But she spots one of her scarves fluttering in a glassless window from the tour coach and comes to find her. They hug before heading to the rocks, where Callie watches Jacqueline swimming in the sea and feeling alive and buoyant for the first time since the massacre.


Despite the excellence of Cynthia Erivo and Alia Shawkat, this cumbersomely structured and self-consciously elusive drama smudges too many aspects of a harrowing story. Co-writers Alexander Maksik and Susanne Farrell make sparing use of dialogue, as Chen seeks to show how isolated and vulnerable Jacqueline is as a lone Black woman trying to survive while coming to terms with unspeakable trauma in a Greek idyll. But the backstory sequences are so contrivedly fleeting that they raise any number of questions that the film-makers seem unwilling to answer.


The London sequences fail to establish either Jacqueline's living situation or her romance with Helen, whose single text message in the light of a headline-making tragedy suggests self-centred indifference rather than anguished passion. Obviously, Jacqueline wants to hide the truth from Helen's mother when she calls home. But one is left to wonder why she couldn't get back to Britain if she flew out of Liberia and how she ended up in Greece and this particular island if she fled by, say, boat, like so many other terrified refugees.

Jacqueline's status in Liberia is also sketched in a slipshod manner. Is her father a good man who has been targeted by militant rebels or has he abused the trust of his office? How does Jacqueline feel about his conduct and why did she leave for Britain when her sister remained home? Did she stay for the (unseen) father of her child or has she acquiesced in Michael's possible corruption?


Away from the domestic issues, was the attack part of a concerted coup? If so, did it succeed and, if it didn't, why has Jacqueline taken flight when her father's powerful colleagues would surely have rallied to her cause? Also, if the murder took place three months ago (as is implied), how long was Jacqueline in transit and how long has she been in Greece? Moreover, how has she been able to pass herself off as a tourist to the police for such a length of time when she is so highly visible during the day as a beach masseuse? Are we also expected to believe that she has not previously attracted attention as a Black woman devouring leftovers at pavement eateries?


Clearly, it makes Jacqueline more vulnerable if she has lost everything and had to take the first chance of escape. But the script's manipulative approach to her trauma deprives her of the option of presenting herself to a British consulate, where (even without documentation) she should be in a position to prove her residency through Helen or her employers. Even if she had been living in London on her father's ill-gotten gains, she would still have a legitimate claim to resume her former existence, especially as her family's slaughter was such a high-profile news story that not even the most heartless Tory Home Secretary would be booking her on a flight to Rwanda.


By disregarding such strands and taking refuge in the kind of contrivance one finds in amnesia-driven melodramas, Chen diminishes the credibility of what should have been a moving story. Erivo and Shawkat paper over the cracks with their carefully calibrated rapport, while Crystel Fournier's cinematography avoids postcardery and Ré Olunuga's piano and string score resists over-emphasis. For all its storytelling shortcomings, this is a quietly affected variation on the comfort of strangers scenario. But it will take more than a dip in the sea for Jacqueline to start to heal.


UNSINKABLE.


The first films about the sinking of RMS Titanic were made in the year of the tragedy itself. Since 1912, however, several features have sought to reconstruct events, including E.A. Dupont's Atlantic (1929), Werner Klinger and Herbert Selpin's Titanic (1943), Jean Negulesco's Titanic (1953), Roy Ward Baker's A Night to Remember (1958), Charles Walters's The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), Bigas Luna's The Chambermaid on the Titanic, and James Cameron's Titanic (both 1997). The latter dominates the public impression of the disaster. But 30 year-old debutant Cody Hartman seeks to shed fresh light on what happened on 15 April 1912 in Unsinkable.


Leaving Washington with the blessing of his wife, Nancy (Karen Allen), Senator William Alden Smith (Cotter Smith) travels to New York with assistant Maggie Malloy (Jayne Wisener) to greet survivors of the sinking as they dock aboard RMS Carpathia. As he serves a subpoena and a severe reprimand to

Joseph Bruce Ismay (Sam Turich), the managing director of the White Star Line, scrappy journalist Alaine Ricard (Fiona Dourif) tries to get the scoop that will make her name.


The first session is chaired by the politically ambitious Smith at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on 19 April, with Ismay becoming the first witness after letting Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Brendan Griffin) know that his duty lies with asserting that White Star is not criminally responsible for the loss of 1517 lives. Ismay receives a buffeting from the stern Smith that exposes his arrogance and reluctance to accept blame for any of his actions, including taking a place in the last lifeboat to leave Titanic.


By contrast, Arthur H. .Rostron (Tom Stephens), the captain of the Carpathia, is deferential and obliging. He reveals that it was a matter of luck that the wireless operator heard the distress call before he went to bed and that he had taken risks in steaming into an ice field to reach the lifeboats. Rostron appals Smith and Senator Newlands (Randy Kovitz) by declaring that the Board of Trade expected new liners to be a lifeboat in themselves, as they were not expected to sink.


While he is speaking, cutaways show Ricard snooping in a warehouse and being forced to hide under a tarpaulin in a lifeboat marked `Liverpool'. She has printed a story under the name `Richard Allan' about Smith's showdown with Ismay on the Carpathia and he orders Malloy to track the reporter down, while already being in a foul mood having been accosted by Duchess Asconti Arese (Teri Clark), who is appalled that so many Third Class passengers were permitted to survive when the likes of John Jacob Astor IV were allowed to perish.


While Ricard is being beaten by two men in bowler hats, Titanic's radio officer, Harold S. Bride (Alec Hynes), gives his testimony from a wheelchair. He is nervous at being given a patrician grilling by Smith, who is keen to know whether Captain Edward J. Smith received warnings about icebergs. He criticises the wireless operator aboard SS Frankfurt for not responding to the international `CQD' code and is chided by Smith for trying to shirk his own responsibility for missing a warning from SS Californian because he was not wearing his headphones.


Smith also attempts to give Lightoller a hard time, by sticking to points that the seaman knows are of no strict consequence. He admits to using the law of human nature in judging that women and children should leave by boat and concurs that not only did some wives refuse to leave their husbands, but that he had to turn swimmers away from his lifeboat to prevent capsizing.


After the session, Smith is browbeating Ricard for publishing stories that make him look bad when they are approached by Lucille, the Countess of Rothes (Diana Griffith), who describes the panic that ensued during the 10 minutes the crew had to load the boats. She insists that the courage and sacrifice had been exemplary and takes him to the tented camp for the steerage survivors so that he can hear more first-hand accounts rather than simply seeking to find fault with White Star personnel.


Back in Washington, the hearings resume at the Russell Senate Building on 23 April with Quartermaster Frederick Fleet (Jason Klentz), who had been in the crow's nest, but had not been issued with binoculars. Captain Stanley Lord (David Whalen) of the Californian claims that Titanic had responded brusquely to a communiqué about ice, but Ricard and Malloy reach the conclusion that it had been in the vicinity and could have been more helpful during the crisis.


As Smith informs Ismay that history will probably not be kind to him, he hears 5th Officer Harold Lowe (Chris Bohan) confess to firing at Italian immigrants trying to board his lifeboat. Ricard seeks out Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Godfrey Peuchen (John Yost), a Canadian businessman who had been shooting off his mouth about Captain Smith's poor seamanship before saying little to the tribunal. He tells Ricard that the United States would suffer from seeking to humiliate an ally and that Britain's security would be compromised if banker J.P. Morgan withdrew from an arrangement to support the Royal Navy at a time when the threat of continental war was growing.


Himself chastened by President Howard Taft for prolonging the inquiry, Smith realises that he has damaged his political prospects by reporting that no one person is to blame (although he confides to his wife that their namesake was complacent in believing that his vessel was unsinkable). In his summation, Smith commends the orchestra that had played `Nearer My God to Thee' to provide solace for those about to drown. He hopes that its message will reverberate around the world and that reforms will be passed to prevent future calamities.


Dipping out of a newsreel showing before the first feature-length adaptation of Oliver Twist (1912), Smith meets Ricard, who is heading to Europe to cover the coming war. He says her professionalism and humanity will be needed and the film ends with the suggestion that the Senator from Michigan has learned much about the world and himself from his experience.


As Ricard is purportedly a composite of several historical figures, such schmaltzy sentiments feel unearned and do a gross disservice to an otherwise laudable attempt to reflect on ground covered in Wayne Keeley's 1999 documentary, The Titanic Chronicles, which drew on the same congressional record that inspired Eileen Enwright Hodgetts's play, Titanic to All Ships, which has provided the basis for the screenplay written by Cody and Brian Hartman.


Given the limited budget of a picture filmed exclusively in Pittsburgh, Hartman has done well to establish the look and moral tone of the time. The lighting design artfully strives to conceal the budget-driven deficiencies of the shipboard and Atlantic sequences, but John G. Hartman's production design and Brittany Graham's costumes are admirable. That said, it's very careless to have `SS Titanic' on the side of the lifeboat in the Rothes flashback. But this pales compared to the unforgivable error of having the Smiths watch a talking newsreel in 1912 - 15 years before Alan Crosland's The Jazz Singer (1927)!


Such avoidable slips, together with the liberties taken with historical fact and the mixed calibre of some of the acting, undermine one's confidence in the project's authenticity. But Cotter Smith impresses, while Jeff Garton's camerawork and Scott Glasgow's score are well-judged. Editors Joshua Hamaker and Julia Hannan also capably incorporate the flashbacks and cutaways to illustrate the testimony.


This is an aspect of the story that should be better known, along with the treatment of the Third-Class survivors on their arrival in New York. It's also somewhat surprising that nobody has thought to do a film about what happened on that fateful night aboard the Carpathia and/or the Californian. But this is a solid contribution to the Titanic canon, all the more so for a first-time director.


ATIRKÜL IN THE LAND OF REAL MEN.


It soon becomes apparent during Janyl Jusupjan's Atirkül in the Land of Real Men that you wouldn't get a preening coach wearing a £1.1 million watch on the touchline during a game of buzkashi. This is the kind of pursuit that used to crop up on Transworld Sport (1987-). But this isn't the first time Jusupjan has featured buzkashi on screen, as a couple of famous players visit the village school in her 2016 outing, Letters From the Pamirs, which centres on an ethnic Kyrgyz community residing in a remote Jerge-Tal region of Tajikistan.


Situated nearby, Jaylgan village was the childhood home of Atirkül Arzyldabekova, who hopes to set up her own buzkashi team. Although she doesn't ride, she loves horses and has been training them since buying two mares and a foal for $10,000 from a dealer who had been drinking with her husband. `I steal from the brains of men,' she jokes, as she explains how she plans to buck the trend by making her mark in an all-male sport.


Despite there being thick snow, Atirkül organises a North v South game and Jasupjan uses a drone to film the chaotic action, as dozens of riders compete to take possession of a goat's carcass. No one mentions the result, but Atirkül mentions that some of the menfolk are resistant to her ambitions. She used to import goods from China, but felt the business was too insecure and decided to make use of the skills she has inherited from her father.


Nephews Samat and Abish are keen to help, but they are fonder of horses than they are skilled buzkashi players. One tears a nail trying to pick up the goat during a training session and they admit that they are finding it hard to get others to join the team. They consider the name, `The Future of Youth', and Atirkül promises to buy them uniforms. But, even though there are signs of improvement during practice, the lads fare poorly at the next chaotic game, with Samat's horse getting a cut above the eye.


We see Atirkül fussing over a loner foal in the stable and feeding the imposing Mustang. She has been frustrated in her efforts to borrow horses for the team, as the local men deliberately make life difficult for her without openly opposing her scheme. She wanders out into the garden, where she gets trapped in a collapsed swing chair.


Atirkül lays on a spread for three members of her team and learns that one is planning to go and work in Russia. Times are hard and the chance to earn decent money is impossible to turn down. Reminiscing about working in the tobacco fields during the Soviet era, Atirkül says that people were kinder in those days.


Faced with passive patriarchal aggression and the socio-economic realities of the region, Atirkül seems to have been thwarted in her plans. As the film ends, she's working in the farm dairy and listening to a reunited friend playing the accordion. For now, managing a buzkashi team seems a distant dream.


Presuming too much foreknowledge about both buzkashi and Atirkül's lifestyle, this is frustrating ethnographic study of one woman's battle to do things her own way. By failing to explain the rules of the game, Jusupjan leaves the audience floundering during the brief action sequences. But she also makes little effort to contextualise Atirkül's situation, with the result that the hierarchy she is attempting to compete against remains unchallenged in the background.


Christian Lelong and Janyl Chytyrbaeva's views of the rugged terrain are evocative. while Atirkül makes splendid company as she follows her heart, whether chattily recalling her early driving experiences or watching her favourite horse drink water. Seemingly at Jusupjan's behest, however, editor François Sculier opts against fashioning the material into some form of narrative, with the result that many will feel kept at a distance and little the wiser about Atirkül or buzkashi.


With regard to the latter, you can always scour the Internet for such features mentioning the sport as Dupont and Pierre Schoendoerfer's La Passe du diable (1956), John Frankenheimer's The Horsemen (1971), Brian G. Hutton's High Road to China (1983), and Peter MacDonald's Rambo III (1988). Also worth seeking is Sam French's Buzkashi Boys (2012), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short.





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